Book Review: CACTUS HEART, Issue 4, June 2013 (pg 147-179)
Vancouver: Now or Never Publishing, 2013; $19.95. 237 pages. ISBN: 978-1-92694-214-8
Reviewed by Julie Anne LevinIn her gripping and heartfelt first novel, King of the Class, Gila Green sets a timeless tale of love and religion in a politically and technologically futuristic Israel. Among cyber pets and hoverboards, a self-proclaimed nonreligious woman, Eve, is guided by supernatural connections through a plot maze that includes a difficult marriage and her only son’s disappearance. Tapping deeply into the experience of motherhood, Green’s most moving moments depict a mother’s relationship to her unborn child’s soul and, then, to her young son. The story also convincingly examines the sometimes healthy and sometimes disturbing sacrifices parents make to serve their children.
This fast-paced novel is set in an Israel in which the twostate solution refers not to Israel and Palestine (a situation only briefly mentioned in the book), but to the conflict of secular and religious Jews within Israel. In the first captivating pages, Eve wakes to find that her beloved fiancé has left her to delve deeper into Judaism and become a rabbi. He presses her to embrace his orthodox lifestyle while she is haunted by a ghost-like figure also influencing her to accept the existence of a higher power. Eve’s decisions are far from being fictionally optimistic, and instead Green accurately portrays the human tendency to fulfill one’s own happiness by not being a disappointment to others. The isolation and doubt felt in each of Eve’s passing thoughts is a heart-wrenching tribute to anyone struggling with his or her identity in a religion, as a parent, and as a citizen in a country defined by clash.The bleak future of Israel painted in this account creates a feeling of immediacy to solve the current dilemmas without giving rise to Green’s predicted outcomes. In Green’s words, we must “realize that everything is as temporary as it is forever... A small act we perform thoughtlessly today, a careless word uttered can affect generations. At the same time, we must not bear grudges, we must put the bad behind us and say it’s over, that was then.” Eve’s personal journey includes her own conflicted understanding of the complicated political situation and her place as a student, sister, wife, and mother in a country constantly plagued by some level of civil strife. The characters surrounding Eve represent different levels of observance, but they are not mere caricatures of their sacred and secular beliefs. Rather, Green portrays even the most dark of them affectionately and without religious or political stereotypes, and allows each to be unmistakably human, with flaws and desires that flaunt and defy their stated principles. Without question, the artistry of Green’s writing is most apparent in the beautiful delicacy she uses to develop the relationships between the mothers and their sons. She weaves a telepathic connection between them, which serves as help and hindrance in the face of tragic circumstances. It does not, however, feel forced or magical. Rather, it naturally appears as the deeply personal communication that all mothers strive for with their children. Her own experience as a mother and Israeli immigrant makes the story touchingly personal and powerfully compelling.The final one hundred pages of King of the Class leave the reader breathless and shaken. Suddenly and strangely, characters who have been shadows in the early plot development are the main players in averting a bitter nightmare. This artful arrangement of motivation and purpose adds to the suspense and takes the reader on a frightening discovery into the nature of hope, despair, and the lengths to which people go for personal gain. Ultimately, however, the intricate plot allows the main characters to find redemption in what is simply a true love story. The story wraps back around as Gila Green effortlessly expresses an unimaginable depth of understanding for her characters and how they realistically face extraordinary circumstances. That is the skill that defines her style as an author and leaves a lasting impression and anticipation for her future storytelling.